On being trans and suffering from mental illness

This one is going to be a bit long and may be triggering. I’m going to talk about the shooting in Tunkhannock, trans issues, and mental health.

Somewhat recently in Tunkhannock, there was a shooting at a Weis. This is terrible in and of itself and will make the lives of those struggling with mental illness harder. Those who do this sort of thing often have struggled with mental illness themselves. They also don’t receive treatment. Why don’t they seek treatment?  I can only speculate about why, but the stigma surrounding mental illness, the cost of treatment, and the lack of therapists and psychiatrists are the most likely reasons.

It can be very hard to find a therapist and even harder to find one that clicks with you. Much harder to find than that is a good psychiatrist. They are all expensive if you lack insurance, anywhere from $80/hour and up. I’ve personally seen up to about $300/hour. Even if you have insurance, there are copays and deductibles that can make treatment unaffordable. My good insurance covered all of my mental health care without any copays, but I had to hit the deductible of $250 first.  But the biggest reason, without a doubt, is the stigma around mental illness. We are thought to be stupid, unreliable, and dangerous.

While we can be unreliable, we aren’t stupid and are only very rarely dangerous. I tend to over commit myself when I’m feeling good and then crash and have trouble keeping my commitments. For the most part though, I am able to do what I say I will. And most people with mental illness are smart, creative, and productive. Most importantly, we aren’t any more dangerous than anyone else. Yet, we get treated like we’re about to kill everyone around us all the time. If we could be treated like everyone else, that would go a long way to dropping this stigma and making it easier for people to admit they need help. And if we could make treatment easier to get, well, that’d be near paradise.

Unfortunately, this shooting will also come down hard on trans people. It seems that this individual was trans and couldn’t deal with it. Could be because we are treated worse than dirt by many, many people. Could be that the American ideal of masculinity is toxic to everyone. Could be because people think we are mentally ill or trying to trick people. Yet again, it is down to stigma and stereotypes.

I absolutely hate trans jokes. Why?  Because they are all the same. The joke is always about how trans women aren’t women. Which leads me to the stories that get told about us. We are the villain or the victim, never the hero. There is always so much fuss made about being trans when all it needs to be is a detail. These stories, both about trans people and those of us suffering from mental illness, need to change. Once the stories change, we’ll change. People are quick to think that words and stories are minor things. They are both magic and the most powerful sort we have. Don’t believe me, what does a therapist use to heal mental illness?  Words and stories. The way you heal is often changing the story you tell about yourself. Words and stories influence the way we think.

There is this odd idea that trans people are simply having delusions. What most people don’t know is that being transgender was once treated like having delusions and not one treatment changed anyone from being trans. Just like conversion therapy. You can’t torture us into not being who we are. Being trans is a piece of who and what we are and that can’t be changed. You can’t make a left handed person right handed, no matter how hard you try.

Trans people do deal with mental illness at rates higher than cisgender people. Why might that be?  We are demeaned, demonized, and bullied almost constantly. We have to face violence and the threat of violence everyday. We get kicked out of homes, jobs, and groups because we are trans. We are verbally and physically attacked simply because of who we are. To avoid all of this, many try to stay hidden, to be someone else. All of this takes a toll on our well-being.

We have trouble getting any kind of trans related healthcare. I have to drive to Harrisburg twice a year. Insurance rarely covers trans healthcare. We have to worry about what will happen if our other healthcare providers find out we are trans.

So, now that I’m done with all the doom and gloom, what can we do about it?  One, we can start trying to change the stories told about trans people and those suffering from mental illness. Mostly, though, don’t be so quick to judge us. Maybe speak out for us when you see someone trying to put us down or hurt us. Seek help yourself, if you think you might be dealing with mental illness. Trust me, treatment helps. Same goes for being trans. Try to find some of us and talk with us. Most of us are nice people. Simply treat us as normal people, because we aren’t much different from you.

I’ll leave you a line or two from Hank Williams, from ‘Men with Broken Hearts’:

You have no right to be the judge, to criticize and condemn.
Just think but for the grace of God it would be you instead of him.


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